Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Stupid Oral Surgery I Have to Have

Meters swum today: None.
Playing in the background: The iron whine of the train horn as it seems to rumble through my very back yard, rattling the windows

Roundabouts April of 2007, when I was semi-employed by Legal Network and one of my time-traveling neocraftsperson friends, Tammy, was my boss, I started getting a toothache. Owing to the messed-up nerves in my face (sinus surgery; another long story) I couldn't tell if it was a top tooth or a bottom tooth. Whatever it was, was seriously pissed off, and drinking hot coffee didn't help matters. I called my dentist, who called in a course of antibiotics, and saw me at his office as soon as he could squeeze me in. Turned out to be a top tooth. An emergency root canal followed, during which I found out that nitrous oxide makes me sick as hell, and being upside down messes with my equilibrium. Being upside down and on nitrous oxide - my dentist deserves combat pay. I hope he has a good carpet cleaning service.

About a month later, I was peacefully munching on a bagel when the tooth in front of the troublesome tooth suddenly came away with the bagel. Whether the root canal destabilized it or whether it was just its time to go, we aren't sure, but in any case, this tooth had a frick'n peg stuck out of it. It wasn't a real tooth. Boy, was I ever surprised. I didn't even know I had false teeth. It must have been very old.

The same dentist told me that the crown - for it was, after all, a crown - was so degraded that there wasn't any way he could put it back in. I'd need oral surgery to yank out the old root and replace it with a dental implant. He quoted me a price and I about threw up on him again. (You gotta remember, this is very soon after the first debacle, which had to be paid for with Lady Visa and Master Card, and it wasn't exactly cheap. And I was unemployed at the time. When it rains, it really effing pours, at least when I'm around.)

So I did what an unemployed and broke person would normally do under these circumstances; nothing. The root was still there, after all. The other teeth weren't jockeying for position. Yeah, I had this great gaping hole in my gum (and a missing tooth, just incidentally) but that was no biggie; I've chewed on the left for years. I mean that politically. Metaphorically, too.

That was, hmm, a year and a half ago. Since then my dentist has been bugging me to get it fixed every time I see him. Something about having a great gaping hole in your gum not being the best thing for your immune system. Something about possible abcesses and brain cancer and heart disease and terrible messy ways to die. I've been stubborn, though. Something about having to come up with five figures to get it fixed. I'm cheap that way.

Well, recently I went and got a second opinion. The second guy is quite adamant (you ever wonder if that's where Adam Ant got his name? Adamant, Adam Ant, get it?) that I need to have it fixed, and as soon as possible, but he gave me a much better price. Only four figures. I mean, four figures is better than five figures but geez Louise, it's still a lot of money. Though not, as Joan has pointed out, near as much as it would be if the stupid thing abcesses and has to be fixed on an emergency basis. That would probably be five figures and then some.

So sometime in December I'm going to have oral surgery. About which I am powerfully not happy. I'd talk myself out of it again but Joan would kill me, if the great gaping hole didn't get me first. Which is metaphorical of something or another, I guess. Let's ask Adam Ant.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks, guys.

Sorry we got you into that mess. Hope we have you out soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who Wants To Be A Hundred Thousandaire?

Playing in the background: Something from "Celtic Solstice" by Paul Horn
Meters swum today: 1600

Sorry for lack of blogitude lately. Impending holidays, end of month stuff at work, watching GM executives fly in their private jets to request a $15 billion bailout from Congress, stuff like that. Black Friday is the day after tomorrow and I'm not planning to buy a bloody thing. The merchants of the world seem to know this because somebody from Harry & David just called me on my cell phone, wanting me to buy lots of Tower of Treatses to send to my relatives. They even knew the names of said relatives. Please note that it's not Big Brother, its Big Brothers, and their names are Harry & David. They also seem to have my cell phone number, which is a closer guarded secret than President-Elect Obama's Blackberry PIN.

While all that was going on, though, I formulated my very own economic stimulus proposal. I'll be forwarding this to the powers that be later on, so send along your comments. Here's what I'm thinking. $700 billion there, $15 billion there - pretty soon it starts to look like real money. A while back, the Feds in their infinite wisdom sent everybody $600. Well, most people, if you were up to date on filing your taxes and you weren't a criminal or behind on your student loan payments and your last name wasn't Bin Laden and you didn't look like a Democrat. Did it help? Of course not. Why? Because it wasn't enough money.

Look, nobody I know is gonna blow $600 bucks unless they know there's more coming. Hand me $600 and I'll make a payment on the stupid oral surgery I have to have (more on that later). If you actually want me to buy consumer goods, I gotta be content that I can buy consumer goods, send them to all my friends, and not worry about paying off the bills after Christmas.

What we need to do here is send Americans off on the greatest Christmas shopping spree ever. I'm proposing we send every adult American in the country $100,000.00. (I'd say every single American, but you know if you send a teenager $100 grand he'll just blow it all on video games and a new Ferrari.) Seriously. 100 grand, tax free, spend it however you want. That'll stimulate the old economy, all right. Harry & David will be rolling in it. House prices will skyrocket. People will rush to buy new Saturns. GM will turn a massive profit for the first time in decades, and the executives will be spared the untold humiliation of having to fly commercial instead of taking their private jets. Oh, and fewer people will get laid off, too.

How much will all this cost? Not as much as you might think. There are about 303 million people in the U.S., according to the CIA's most recent estimate. About 225 million of those folks are over 18 (Jen's best guess based on the age breakdown provided.) 225 million x 100,000 equals a mere 22.5 trillion. Heck, that's less than half of the entire world's gross domestic product in 2007. Pocket change! Besides, what comes around goes around; we'll buy Chinese TVs, Japanese cars, British DVDs, European whatever-they-make-in-Europe and clothing assembled in Mexico. We'll take vacations in France and Italy, water ski in the Bahamas and hike the Australian outback. Call it a massive global redistribution of wealth. And as always, America should be the starting point. We already consume 25% of the planet's goods, why not just make it half for a little while?

And just to show what a patriotic American I am, Jen does hereby pledge that when she gets her hundred grand, she'll buy a house. In Ireland. Right after she pays off her dental surgery.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nightmare in Guyana

Meters swum today: Zero.
Playing in the background: The soporific sounds of the dryer

This has been a strange day. I mean, it was pretty ordinary as far as I went to work, did work, came home, made dinner and all that. The strange part is that thirty years and a week or so ago, I came across an issue of "Time" Magazine that had this photo in it.
Granted, there were other photos. There was even that one dramatic aerial shot of hundreds, almost a thousand bodies. But this is the one I remember. This group of people, maybe a family, that look like they all lay down on the ground to take a nap, with their arms around each other.

It was a strange day to be alive. I was nine, and concepts like "mass cult suicide" (actually more like "mass cult murder") had yet to make their way into my brain. As clearly as this photo stands out, though, I don't remember the adults talking about it. I don't remember it getting discussed during Current Events in school. I wonder why. I lived in Salt Lake City and Jonestown came right on the heels of the Emmanuel David murders. 1978 was a great year for mass cult suicide/murders all the way round.

Which led me to think about the unthinkable. If there's a good definition of "unthinkable" in the dictionary, it probably mentions Jonestown. And 9/11. And -- well, things that are unthinkable, so I can't think of any more. Back in 1993, during the seige of the Branch Davidians in Waco, one journalist after another kept mentioning that "nobody wants this to turn into another Jonestown." The unthinkable had become thinkable. What's more, it had become a household word, bandied about in every weird story of cult activity from the Mormon compound in Eldorado to the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo, Japan.

9/11 was a little more recent and unlike Jonestown, I remember where I was when all that went down in New York. I'd heard something about a plane crash on the way to work but that was all. Somebody in my building lobby told me what had happened (I was in San Diego and there was a three hour time delay) and I remembered thinking, "He must have that wrong. When I get to my desk I'll log in to CNN and find out what happened." Only when I got to my desk I couldn't get on to CNN because everyone else was on CNN and - well, then my building got evacuated, as did all of downtown. No airplanes flew overhead for days.

In our most recent election campaign there were dire warnings about what might happen if one candidate or another was elected. "What would we do in another 9/11 if so and so was in charge?" ran the tag line of one scary ad. Another 9/11. Even typing that gives me pause. Because of course there could never be another 9/11. 9/11 was unthinkable.

If I think about it long enough, though, I come up with a whole long list of unthinkable things that have happened in my lifetime. A secret prison on a remote island in which torture and abuse are routine, where no charges are filed and the so-called trials are rigged, perpetuated by my people, in the name of my so-called safety, and supported by elected officials of my own party. A nonwhite nonold person being elected President (because it's totally cool doesn't make it any less unthinkable; move back in time ten years and ask if it could have happened then and you'll see what I mean). A little girl in Austria, locked in a cellar by some whacko for eightyears. And as soon as something unthinkable happens, something else happens that makes you realize how thinkable it really was all along.

Less than a year after the little girl bolted for freedom, another little girl in the same country emerged from a different cellar after 24 years and 7 children, forced on her by her own father. If that's not unthinkable, I don't know what is. But just wait. People who can think the unthinkable end up on the side of history. Something else like this will happen. There's another little girl locked in a cellar somewhere, waiting to be found. And another mass cult suicide/ murder brewing somewhere, somewhen. It's thinkable now.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How I Spent My Saturday, by Jen.

Playing in the background: The dishwasher. Nice beat. You can dance to it. I'll give it a seven.
Meters swum today: Zero.

I spent Saturday morning and part of the afternoon at a protest in downtown Dallas with 1200 of my closest friends. The event was part of a string of pro-gay-marriage rallies being held all over the country in protest of California's passage of Proposition 8. That's me on the left with my hastily-painted sign (actually, it turned out okay) and Joan on the right with the much cooler sign.

Here's a better picture:

I actually didn't want to go to this thing but I'm not sorry I did. The sound system wasn't all that great but there was a lot of yelling and cheering and so on. A couple of counter-demonstrators appeared on the other side of the street with a big ol' wooden cross and a megaphone (why the conservatives always have better sound systems, I can't understand) and we drowned 'em out by saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Really really loud.

Some shots of the crowd:

Here's a link to the Dallas Morning News story about the rally. Yes, they actually covered it, will wonders never cease.

Afterward we dispersed through the plaza in front of City Hall.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Post-Election High

Meters swum today: Zero. 1700 yesterday though.
Playing in the background" "Audio Visions" on DirecTV Music

Maybe my excitement about Obama winning the election has finally surpassed my gloom about Proposition 8, or maybe it's just a beautiful fall day in Texas, but I feel really good today. I had a great day yesterday I went to the pool, then to the Maria Kannon Zen Center and sat for an hour. I may hang out there more often. One thing I don't like about Awakening Heart is that they talk too much!! I get very shy in religious situations and I'd just rather sit and be still & know God and all that. In Zen they face the wall, don't speak, and just chant a little at the end. Which is really nice sometimes. It's very quiet there too. For a brief spell in college I hung out with the Quakers and they're big on silence, also.

After the Zen center I went to a write-in at Half Price Books and wrote a lot, about 4000 words or something of my November novel, which is really a tremendous amount. Also sold a box of books which paid for about half of Tammy's birthday present. Oh! And they had these Buddha journals for sale!! I haven't seen em since last year and the one I got is long since filled up. I just got one but I should have grabbed three or four. I'll go back next week after I get paid. I also had a tiramisu at the coffee shop which is just about the best thing I've ever tasted in my life. (Did I ever tell you how I first met my brother in law? Trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about I said, "I hear you're a Tiramisu Buddhist." He said, "No, Theravada. Tiramisu is an Italian dessert." How embarrassing.)

Went home afterward and took a nap, after which Kellum came over and gave a us a massage. Followed by T&T and pizza. Followed by the movie "The Edge" on FMC - Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin get lost in the wilderness and square off with Bart the Bear (featuring Bart as himself). Extraordinarily well-acted and well done. The music is also just unbelievable. I may try to track down the soundtrack.

Sorry to go on and on. It was just an awesome day. Today I am doing laundry and that is also fine. I might rake leaves later and that, too, will be fine. Not the Tyranny of Fine but fine anyway.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Blue in a Red State

Meters swum today: 1700
Playing on the iPod: Paul Horn, from "Celtic Solstice"

What with all the excitement and a nonwhite nonold guy getting elected to lead a nation of 300 million mainly nonwhite nonold folks, the whole Prop. 8 thing in California barely got any press. In case you haven't heard yet, it passed. Which means what exactly? Well, it changes Article 1, Section 7.5 of the California Constitution to read as follows: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Which means what exactly? Well, that two men or two women can't marry each other in California. (I guess the two men could each marry one of the two women and they could all set up a household together, but that might get a bit complicated.) So gay couples can't get married in California anymore.

So, what happens to all the folks, like me, who got married between the time the California Supreme Court said that gay couples had to be allowed to marry, and now? Well, that is the million dollar question. Nobody really knows. Some legal scholars are saying all those marriages are void. There's a big argument about whether a marriage can be annulled by anyone other than one of the participants but I won't get into that here. Attorney General Jerry (Gov. Moonbeam) Brown states that he believes said marriages are valid. Which means that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California unless you happen to be one of the 18,000 couples who got hitched between last May and now, and yours is valid but nobody else's is.

That may make legal sense but the logic is lost on me. The only really good analogy is laws against black and white folks marrying each other, which were on the books in most states within my lifetime (and I ain't 40 yet). If California had amended the constitution to read, "Only a marriage between two persons of the same race is valid or recognized in California," but then stated that anybody who happened to already be in a mixed-race marriage was okay, would that make any sense?

If you're wondering how in hell this law got passed in the first place, I turn you to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, which is putting the blame squarely on the Mormon Church. The group Mormons For Marriage (an odd moniker for a group of people that tends to marry four or five wives at a time) raised a ridiculous amount of money to fund ads with cute little girls coming home from school and saying, "Mommy, they told us in school that two little girls can get married when they grow up, is that true?" Too bad the anti-Prop 8 folks didn't run ads showing the same little girl coming home from school and saying, "Mommy, we're studying the California constitution, and it says that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California, why did they put that in there?"

But I digress. Click, if you will, on the next link, which will take you to Invalidate 8. Not only is this group raising money to fight this new law, they're doing it with a fine sense of sarcasm. For any donation over $10.00 (I sent 'em $25) they will send a postcard to the president of the Mormon Church, Thomas Monson, which reads as follows:

Dear President Monson:
A donation has been made in your name by _________________ to “” to overturn California's Proposition 8 and restore fundamental civil rights to all citizens of California. The money will be donated to legal organizations fighting the case and to support grass-roots activities in support of full marriage equality. Although we decry the reprehensible role the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leadership played in denying all Californians equal rights under the law, we are pleased a donation has been made on your behalf in the effort to overturn the discrimination your church members helped enshrine in the California Constitution. Given that throughout its history the Mormon Church has been subjected to bigotry, we hope you appreciate the donation in your name to fight religious bigotry here in California.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine got a check from his uncle for graduation along with a note that read, to the effect of, "If you cash this, you will be accepting that capitalism is the only real way to freedom and that all of your socialistic ideas are crap." He cashed it and sent the entire amount, which was considerable, to the American Communist Party in his uncle's name. I imagine the poor guy is still on their mailing list.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama:

Meters swum today: 1700
Playing in the background: An episode of Ghost Hunters

Hey, congratulations, guy. You're going to be the leader of the free world. I know you're gonna get advice from everyone and God, but hey, it's never been like me to keep my mouth shut when I have something to say. So here it is, Jenz Advice For About-To-Be Presidents About How Not To Screw Up. And I'm not charging you a cent (though if there's a line item in the budget about encouraging Buddhism in the Bible Belt, I have my grant application all ready. Just ask me.)

First and foremost, get good advice. A President has a pretty thankless job sometimes - blamed for all the problems in the known universe, laughed at by editorial cartoonists, and not even paid all that well, when you consider what upper level managers are paid by private corporations. You get an even bigger mess to clean up, coming in on the heels of the worst Presidency in history and inheriting a country in a sorry financial pickle. So it can't possibly hurt to hedge your bets. While you're hiring your economists and your military guys and your historians and your various political honchos, get on the horn and find yourself a good professor of social psychology or anthropology, or better yet, one of each. Then, when you make what seems like an intelligent suggestion and all hell breaks loose (like Jimmy Carter suggesting to the German ambassador that they lower their interest rates to drive up inflation, say) you can get an answer that makes sense. My sister majored in anthropology and applied sociolinguistics, whatever that is, and I can't count the number of times I've called her up and said, "Okay, this happened at work, and I did this, and that was clearly the wrong thing to do, what would have been the correct thing?" You'll need folks like this. You might need a real clinical psychologist, too, and it can't hurt to have a meditation teacher around. Give me a ring if you want recommendations, I has 'em.

Secondly, keep your nose clean. I know that sounds like common sense, but it's amazing how rare common sense actually is. Get caught doing anything that even looks like it might be illegal and that'll be all anybody talks about for six months. Nixon didn't get in trouble for organizing the Watergate break-in; he got in trouble for trying to cover it up. Clinton didn't get in trouble for fooling around with a young intern; he got in trouble for lying about it under oath. You can avoid the whole mess by just doing the right thing, because it is right. It isn't as much fun but it's a lot easier for everybody. Oh, and on the subject of interns, you might wanna just avoid them like the plague. If you can't do that, at least arrange to not be alone with one of them. Two's company but three's the rule. Well, I think it's a good rule.

Thirdly, don't run off and do something, even if you think you're really good at it, if it's not what the country actually needs. Examples abound, but again, Jimmy Carter and foreign policy, George Bush (senior) and starting a war in the Middle East, Ronald Reagan and economics, and George Bush (junior) - pretty much everything since 2002, except armadillo hunting.

Fourth item: Stick to your guns. I can clearly remember the day Bill Clinton started to lose his luster. He'd announced that he was signing an executive order to stop the military from sacking all of its happy people. All of Congress erupted in a storm and demanded that the matter be brought to a vote, because happy people have no place in the nation's military. In one of the many interviews that followed, Bill said, "Well, we don't want to be seen as condoning somebody's lifestyle." Soon after this he caved and gave us the utterly disastrous "Don't Ask Don't Tell" rule. What should Bill have done? Signed the damn order. Why? Because he said he was going to sign the order. And because it was the right thing to do. Would Congress have had a fit? Absolutely. Would it have voted to nullify the order and restore the old "When Bored, Look For Happy Witches And Sack 'Em" policy? Quite probably. But that's not the point. If Bill had signed the order, then been overruled by Congress, he would have looked like the good guy. This has nothing to do with whether or not happy people should serve in the military and everything to do with doing what you say you're going to do. The second Bill made that remark about condoning lifestyles, he was starting to backpedal. We all saw it. It was embarrassing, and we started to lose faith in the guy.

Fifth and finally, get real about the national budget. This is a personal preference, but I'm gonna suggest it anyway. Look, we all grew up asking our folks for expensive toys. We all got told, "No, honey, we can't afford that" once in a while. There's not a thing wrong with standing up, addressing the nation and saying, "No, honey, we can't afford that" war with Iran, that Guantanamo prison, that bailout for the financial industry, that sending all the good jobs overseas thing. Everything costs something, and some things cost too much in terms of money, time, or friends in the international community. We get it. We're not toddlers, even though we act like it sometimes. Tell us the truth and we'll respect you. I promise.

That's about all I have to say. Again, I have some personal preferences (close Guantanamo Bay! Civilian trials for everyone still held there! War crimes trials for everyone who worked there all the way up to Donald Rumsfeld! Declassify Area 51 and show us all the cool reverse-engineered UFOs they've been building out there! Shut down the secret CIA prisons overseas! Apologize to Iran for 1953, and to pretty much all of Central America for the entire 1980s! Quit pissing off the French! Tell Vladimir Putin to get over himself!) but I'll save those for another time. Good luck, Godspeed, and om mani padme hum, dude.

Very truly yours, Jen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

November cometh...

Meters swum today: 1350
Playing in the background: The soporific sound of the dryer

Well, gang, it's National Novel Writing Month again. If you haven't tried this you really should; it's fun. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Why? Well, because. Seriously, if you can write a novel in 30 days (and I assure you that you can; if I can do it, so can any reasonably well-trained orangutan) what else can you do? Heck, could be anything.

Here's my node. Check in on me from time to time, see if I'm keepin' up the old word count. What's my novel about? Why, it's about a Buddhist ghostbuster. I'm serious, it was all I could think of. I'll be posting excerpts there too.